LEADER of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives Phillip Paulwell is insisting that representatives of the finance ministry and State agencies, which are key to the crafting of the national budget, should be physically present during the ongoing constituency debates.
He also wants the finance minister to pinpoint major proposals for funding made by Members of Parliament in their presentations, and commit before the commencement of the new budget to action these projects.
Speaking in the constituency debates on Wednesday, Paulwell, the MP for Kingston East and Port Royal, said the current practice of remote attendance is disrespectful to Members of Parliament who come to the debates and speak on the issues and needs of the constituencies, with the hope of prompting action from the finance minister and the ministry.
He argued that the debates, which were introduced when his party formed the Government, aren’t doing what they are supposed to â€” which is to hold the public’s interest and give MP’s the opportunity to outline the concerns of their constituencies to the finance minister, for budgetary attention.
Paulwell spoke on the topic, ‘Does the constituency debate benefit constituents’.
“I find it offensive when the Ministry of Finance has not seen it fit to be present when the people’s representatives speak. For the Leader of Government Business to say to me that they’re watching on TV and so on, I find that grossly disrespectful. The intent behind this debate was to influence the budget, so it’s not only the Ministry of Finance, but there are some important ministries and agencies that also need to be present,” the MP stated.
He pointed out that the Parliament also recognised the futility in members trying to advocate for their constituencies during the usual Standing Finance Committee, which follows the tabling of the budget at the start of each financial year.
“We would object or comment on lines in the budget and it would mean nothing in the end. At the time I was in Government, and I would know it mean nothing in the end,” he said.
Furthermore, he said constituents complained at the time that not enough funds were flowing to the constituencies, and big projects needed the attention of the consolidated fund. “So, these debates were organised around this time in sync with the national budget call,” he reminded.
“In these debates we are here as equals, elected by a group of people in a constituency,” he said, pointing out that parliament had parted from the Westminster tradition, by even allowing the speaker to speak on behalf of his/her constituency.